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In ‘Tomb Raider,’ Alicia Vikander Becomes the New Queen of Action-Hero Runners

And a few other takeaways about the reboot of the classic video game

Few actors are good runners. They huff and they puff — they exert a lot of effort — but it’s not actually exciting to watch them haul ass during an action scene. They just flail around awkwardly.

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The King of Movie Running, of course, is Tom Cruise, who has whole YouTube videos devoted to his incredible fleet-footedness. He does it just right, combining intensity with a grace that’s hypnotic. But he may have met his match in Alicia Vikander, the star of the new Tomb Raider. She’s an Oscar-winning actress (The Danish Girl) who was great playing a robot in the excellent sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, but in Tomb Raider, she takes on the role of the iconic video game character Lara Croft. This requires her to run — a lot. And she, in turn, quickly becomes movie-running royalty, too.

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Tomb Raider is an otherwise pretty standard action movie, but its one transcendent element is the commitment Vikander brings to a character who, in the buildup to the film’s release, was being dissected online because of her chest size. Vikander atomizes those moronic debates with the grit and urgency she brings to the role, which was previously played by Angelina Jolie. Her Lara Croft is a smart, capable, funny heroine, but she’s never more thrilling than when she’s running. Like Cruise, Vikander makes the journey from Point A to Point B its own special effect.

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Action movies are inundated with CGI, not to mention spaceships, tanks and submarines — and don’t forget all the superheroes who can fly or web-sling their way around town. Amidst all those pyrotechnics, the simple act of running can seem wonderfully antiquated. In a video game, Croft can die an infinite amount of times, but in the movie, Vikander always reminds you just how human she is. And so, we connect with her in a way we don’t with most action heroes. This is the same element Cruise brings to his movies: Sure, he’s a star, but he never lets you forget how easily his character could die.

When Vikander runs in Tomb Raider, the film has a pure, giddy rush that nothing else in it can match. She’s on par with Bruce Willis bobbing and weaving around Nakatomi Plaza in his bare feet in Die Hard — she’s a mortal action star you root for because you really feel like her life hangs in the balance.

Here are a few other takeaways from Tomb Raider. (And warning: There will be spoilers.)

#1. Tombs are dumb.

Anybody who’s watched the Indiana Jones or Mummy movies has an idea of what the tombs in Tomb Raider are like: They’re filled with cobwebs, complicated booby traps and an ornate coffin or incredible treasure that you can only reach once you’ve navigated through their mazes.

It’s not even a question of whether they’re accurate to actual tombs. (I’m not going to bother looking that up — I know they’re not.) It’s just that the whole cinematic trope of tombs is ludicrous. Croft and her colleagues don’t just have to explore the tomb — of course, they have to solve ridiculous riddles and survive elaborate obstacles that, magically, are still working centuries after the tomb was built. (That’s amazing craftsmanship.)

Basically, tombs are just old-school escape rooms — and escape rooms suck because they’re just an excuse for that one type-A friend in your life to show off how smart he is at solving riddles. No thanks.

#2. The movie’s bike-race hunt is, however, based on a real thing.

Early in Tomb Raider, Croft (who’s a lowly bike courier) engages in a bizarre bicycle race with her male coworkers in which she attaches a foxtail to her ass and then dashes around the streets of London while all the guys try to catch her. I assumed the scene was just an excuse for director Roar Uthaug to stage a frenetic action sequence, but it turns out that a real thing inspired it.

The Hollywood Reporter ran an article last week that explained that the scene was “conjured up by screenwriters Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons and based on real races of their type in New York and London.” No other details were included, so I did some digging. Over at n+1, there’s a 2012 piece in which writer Jon Day explains how his brother, a bicycle messenger, got involved in a race similar to the one seen in Tomb Raider:

“He strapped a huge bottle to his back containing a few gallons of paint, with a pipe running down the bike frame that terminated in a small tap. He attached a fox’s tail to one of his belt loops. At the start of the race he opened the tap; the paint started to flow as he pedaled off into the traffic, a line of white glistening on the tarmac in his wake. After a few minutes I released the racers, a pack of bicycle-hounds. With a blast of horns, the race was on.”

The event used to be an underground, illegal thing, but it’s been taken mainstream by Red Bull, which now does annual Foxhunts. Obviously, though, you can’t make a whole movie around somebody who’s a high-octane urban bicyclist. They tried that once — with the 2012 Joseph Gordon-Levitt thriller Premium Rush — and it wasn’t very good.

#3. The guy who got Alicia Vikander ripped also mixes in a fair amount of cheat meals with all that swole.

Once all the bullshit surrounding Vikander’s breast size in relation to the video game character’s went away, most people became obsessed with how jacked the actress got for Tomb Raider. The man behind that transformation was Magnus Lygdback, “a world-renowned Swedish health and wellness expert, entrepreneur, and life coach” who’s also worked with Gal Gadot (for the Wonder Woman sequel) and Ben Affleck (for Justice League), as well as Britney Spears and Katy Perry.

If Tomb Raider helps make Vikander more of a household name, then it’ll also do wonders for Lygdback, who’s been profiled in Business Insider and Men’s Journal for his work with Vikander, including a blow-by-blow description of his regimen, which focuses on back, abs, arms and shoulders. On his Instagram account, he’s even started the hashtag #TombRaiderTraining to show other people how they can look like Vikander.

“I used to play ice hockey back home in Sweden … and I just realized that no one was looking at artists and actors [in a] sports-specific [way],” Lygdback said last year about his background. But while the workout routine with Vikander was intense, he preaches the importance of not trying to kill yourself in order to get ripped.

“Restorative training is very, very important, and treating yourself is very important,” he said in February. “I’m a big believer in balance. You might not believe that when you see [Alicia’s transformation], I really preach balance. Life is all about balance, so we can work out the five days a week. That’s kind of a sweet spot. If they had a busy job, if they’ve got a family, three times a week might be enough. I eat five meals a day, and 17 out of 20 meals should be on point. 3 out of 20 meals, you should enjoy life. You should eat something that you like. All about balance.”

#4. Yes, Lara Croft eventually gets her trademark double guns. It’s a really cringe-worthy scene.

Whenever there’s another horrific mass shooting in America, conservative politicians will predictably blame the murders not on guns but violent video games and movies.

Let’s be clear: That’s bullshit, as there’s been ample evidence that there’s no correlation between violent entertainment and real-life acts. But that doesn’t mean that, after the Parkland shooting and the rise of the March For Our Lives movement, there can’t be scenes in movies that come across as painfully tone-deaf.

Tomb Raider has lots of action and violence, but none of it triggers the cringe reflex … until the ending, which is lame because it tries to shoehorn the possibility of a sequel onto the movie. But as Birth.Movies.Death. critic Russ Fischer points out, that’s not what’s so egregious about the finale.

This new Tomb Raider largely abandons the big-guns-and-boobs version of Lara Croft that was the centerpiece of the original video game — instead, it adheres closer to the redesigned Croft of the new version of the game, where she’s a more realistic human being who wreaks havoc mostly with a bow and arrow. “That means the shorts, the triangular physique and the pistols are in the past,” Fischer explains. “Mostly. There’s one bit where Lara does connect with the guns of Croft v.1, and it is a grossly grinning moment that veers away from the character created in the rest of the film, and plays particularly poorly in the context of the current conversation about guns.”

You can see this moment in the trailer, too: Lara comes across as a trigger-happy cliché of an action-hero badass as she happily picks out dual revolvers, a shout-out to the character’s origins. But not only does it play awkwardly post-Parkland, it ignores what’s cool about the very human Lara Croft of this new Tomb Raider movie. By pandering to old-school fans, the film ends up shooting itself in the foot with those double guns.